Japan, China, and Taiwan all lay claim to a group of barren islands and rocks in the East China Sea (ECS). They see strategic and economic advantages in claiming sovereignty over them. Chinese and Taiwanese trawlers and other boats regularly approach the islands, which are under Japan’s control. Taiwan recently tried to alleviate tensions by proposing an “East China Sea Peace initiative”.
Important shipping lanes pass through the ECS. Many commentators say that China has become increasingly assertive, wanting to extend its sphere of influence. Japan’s administration of the islands is backed up by the US, which nevertheless does not have a final stance on sovereignty. The ECS is also home to possibly abundant oil, gas and fishing grounds.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides rules for defining territorial seas and other maritime areas. Japan and China use different UNCLOS provisions to justify their claims to the waters around the islands.
Taiwan’s peace initiative aims to explore and exploit resources jointly, independent of the territorial dispute, for which it is trying to get an equal seat at the negotiating table. Japan is refusing to negotiate sovereignty over the islands, but recently sent a high level envoy to China.